A Conversation with Todd E. Jones

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Photo courtesy of Todd E. Jones

Hip-Hop has always been a major part of my life. I’m a life-long fan having been exposed to the Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow as a small child. I was dialed in for the RUSH/Def Jam boom and fully immersed in the culture during the golden age of Hip-Hop. The 90s was an extraordinary time in Hip-Hop that many of us still clamor for to this very day. In the early 2000’s things began to change. A lot of people were making money off of Hip-Hop which diluted the art form. People started doing it for all the wrong reasons and the talent level in the mainstream took a plunge.

On the underground scene artists were sticking to the blueprint drawn up by their predecessors and producing some incredible music. The problem was that kind of music wasn’t promoted very much. You had to dig to find it. One source of information for me during that was a writer named Todd E. Jones, aka, New Jeru Poet. His Hardcore Hip-Hop Interviews website boasted a who’s who of underground rap music. His style was conversational and you could tell he had a true love for the music. In each interview he would play word association with his guests and the game became my favorite part of his interviews. Out of nowhere Jones would disappear. My go to place for underground rap features was gone.

Fast forward to the end of the decade and yours truly began writing about Hip-Hop music. When I started interviewing artists myself I borrowed a lot from my favorite Hip-Hop journalist, Todd E. Jones. I always hoped that one day Jones would read my work and recognize the respect that I had for what he’d done. Thanks to social media that day has finally arrived.

It’s with great pleasure that I present to you my conversation with Todd E. Jones. In our discussion he explains how he got his start in Hip-Hop journalism, why he disappeared from the world of Hip-Hop blogging, and the shocking reveal of what he’s been up to in recent years.

TRHH: How did you initially become a Hip-Hop journalist?

Todd E. Jones: [Laughs] That’s a good question. You know what? I wanted free records [laughs]. I love music but it’s so expensive. I would literally steal CD’s out of the record store sometimes because I loved music and I just couldn’t afford it. I figured since I loved music so much I might as well just go after the artists. Hip-Hop is about hustling. The beauty of it is the do it yourself attitude where people make their own beats, write their own rhymes, and sell their records. It started out with some people selling tapes out of the trunks of their car. I wanted to hear every tape, CD, and record I could. I started contacting people and they were easier to contact than I thought. They started sending me free records so then I learned what to do is not just to go to the record labels. Duck Down is one thing, Seven Heads was another – they started sending me free music. Then I got in touch with the publicists and once you get in touch with a good publicist and you do right by them they start sending you more records! I started talking to publicists and it literally got to the point where I got at least eight records a day. I couldn’t wait ‘till the mail came.

Then there were Hip-Hop legends for example, Sticky Fingaz who was in Onyx, Sean Price, or Common who I got when they were indie. Anybody who is an indie Hip-Hop person, whether they are an emcee or a singer, they want publicity. What I would do is write for multiple sites. I wouldn’t just write for my own site, and they knew if I got them an interview it would be on like five sites. Here is the thing, with the reviews it eventually evolved to me only writing about what I like. I wouldn’t write negative reviews. If you were an emcee and you put out an album and got a review or an interview from me, it would be from the heart. It would mean that I liked your work and I wanted to support your work and perpetuate that work to get you publicity. People would send me even more records which would be great! I’d get stuff from Hip-Hop artists from Japan and Europe, for instance like Grand Agent who left America and went to Germany, J Dilla did a lot of stuff in Japan. It just kind of blossomed from that. It really grew into something I never imagined.

TRHH: I hear a lot of parallels in my venture in this with yours. It’s kind of funny…

Todd E. Jones: I checked out your site and it’s tight. It’s good, I like it!

TRHH: Thank you, man. I appreciate it. I stole a lot of stuff from you, man [laughs].

Todd E. Jones: That’s okay. That’s alright. What do you think Hip-Hop was founded on? Taking records from other people!

TRHH: That’s true. I’m definitely inspired by you. You’re a major reason I started doing this. What’s your opinion on how Hip-Hop blogs have evolved?

Todd E. Jones: It’s funny that you say that. Let’s get into it really [laughs]. I kind of backed away from it. As you noticed I don’t publish anymore under Todd E. Jones. I publish under a name called Nicholas Tanek. What happened is in all honesty I was a drug addict. I was high as hell the whole time I was doing those interviews. I was in a marriage that was going nowhere and had faded away. I met this other woman who was a high school sweetheart – her name was Lynn. We got back together and had the most honest, unique relationship you could think of. There was not one lie ever. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2012. I was devastated. I live in New Jersey, hence New Jeru Poet. Hurricane Sandy hit, she died, I’m going through hell mentally and emotionally and I decided to write a book in her honor. The book is called “The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself,” and it’s under the penname Nicholas Tanek. So all this time as much as I love Hip-Hop, the blogs, and journalism, I really just kind of got sucked out of it. People stopped sending me records. In all honesty I’m kind of out of touch. The last Hip-Hop album I bought was the new Tribe Called Quest album and the new Run the Jewels album. Fifteen or twenty years ago I would have known every underground Hip-Hop record like Day By Day Entertainment, Vast Aire and stuff like that.

That’s what I’ve been doing. I kind of transformed myself. I killed myself off so to speak, hence the title of the book, The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself. No one really physically kills themselves in the book. I killed myself off and became a brand new person. I don’t hide it. It’s no big deal. I go by Nicholas Tanek these days because of the book. I started writing for a blog called Take Back Your Sex as Nicholas Tanek. On Take Back Your Sex I write about the kink community. Take Back Your Sex is a sex-positive blog. It’s run by these two women that are very into sex education, kink, and being positive about sexual expression. That’s what I’ve been doing. I haven’t stopped blogging. When it comes to Hip-Hop blogging, in all honesty I love Hip-Hop but I’ll read an article if it shows up on my Twitter of Facebook feed, but I haven’t been following it. I used to go to SOHH all the time. I used to be a very big participant in the forums on SOHH. Because of the death of Lynn and the devastation I just kind of tuned out. I love Hip-Hop music and I’ll still listen to it. When Sean Price died I was really, really sad. I had a connection with him. He was a great guy and I knew him! I think maybe the older you get the less you get connected with the forums and the blogs. I just kind of took a left to writing about sexuality instead of Hip-Hop. I’m straight, but I like being around kinky people [laughs].

TRHH: I have so many questions now. On a serious note, was it suicide? How did Lynn die?

Todd E. Jones: No, she died from complications from ovarian cancer and liver failure. The book is called The Coolest Way to Kill Yourself because it’s about giving yourself to love basically. It’s a metaphor on multiple levels. Basically it’s like giving yourself over to love and doing what you want to do in a creative sense without giving a fuck what anybody else thinks. In other words, I’m going to write this book, create this thing, and do what I do even if it kills me [laughs]. And that’s the coolest way to kill yourself. For example, if you’re an upcoming emcee in a group you’re going to bet everything. You’re going to bet your life savings, you’re going to bet your lifestyle, your work, to make that perfect record and to have that perfect career even if it kills you.

She died from complications of ovarian cancer, but one thing she did was she made me express myself. I was doing this Hip-Hop blogging and I was loving it. Then I got married, I was struggling with drugs, and I kind of got seduced into the regular everyday life – house, wife, stability, and job. The suburban life was tempting and I thought it would save me. The more I got into the suburban life the more Hip-Hop and the more journalism kind of faded away and it was really sad, dude! It was really, really sad because I loved it and I was proud of it. Keep in mind I did this for love. I made some money off of journalism – not that much. I did it because I loved the music so much. Slowly I became that kind of corporate robot which I hated and which I refuse to be from now on [laughs].

TRHH: Regarding the drug issues, what were you doing and how did you beat it?

Todd E. Jones: That’s a good question. I was doing coke and heroin. I beat it through love. It wasn’t spirituality, it wasn’t therapy. Basically after my marriage Lynn and I got back together and we simply stopped because it was too much but we also loved sex. We loved sex! So we got into the kink community. The kink community is fun. It took up more of our time mentally and eventually physically to be a part of the kink community where it became healing. Slowly we got our shit together. It’s like trading one addiction for another. We traded drugs for sex and here I am now [laughs]. I’m writing for TakeBackYourSex.com, and I’m part of the kink community, and I go to parties and, I write about activism in sexuality. I guess you can say sex saved me [laughs].

TRHH: [Laughs] Hey man, that’s not a bad thing to be saved by. You’ve done interviews with artists like Sean Price, Guru, and Baatin who are no longer with us. Do you ever reflect on those conversations or on your own mortality seeing as how these guys passed away so young?

Todd E. Jones: Definitely. I’m really glad you brought that up. Guru, Sean Price, and Baatin those really hit close to home. I wrote for the Source a little bit, but I was mentioned in the Source when that Baatin interview happened. Then I was on a song – a J Dilla produced song! Not my name but Baatin came to me and said he was going solo and he was going to go as Titus and put out his own album. On a song called “Reunion” from a Slum Village album they mentioned the interview and they were talking about my interview. I was like, “Holy shit! That’s on vinyl! That’s forever now.” I’m a part of that. They didn’t mention my name, and I’m fine with that. I couldn’t believe it.

With Sean Price, out of all the emcees he is one of the emcees that really hits close to home because I feel like him. I know what he’s going through. He’s a rough guy and he brags enough because he knows he’s got talent, but he’s also the brokest rapper you know [laughs]. He’s always dealing with some shit and he makes light of it. When Sean died it was like my brother or my best friend died. You knew all the struggles he was going through and you can relate to all the struggles he was going through. He died at such a young age and then you think, “I’m not that much older!” I’m only a couple of years younger than Sean Price. Right now I’m 42. He was in his forties when he died. It was really sad and it really put a lot of levels on my perspective on life in general.

And then there’s Guru. Guru was sad. Him and Premier made such amazing music and have such a legacy in music and when I heard the Solar stuff I was like, “What are you doing?” He passed away and I heard the rumors about Solar and I really don’t know what to believe. It’s just disheartening. The whole thing is sad. Baatin could have done some Andre 3000 stuff. I really think he had the potential to really go far. Sean Price – it was like my heart got ripped out of my chest. Guru’s passing makes me sad, but we got those Gang Starr albums and they’re awesome. Daily Operation, Hard to Earn – Hard to Earn is so tight! It’s one of my favorite Hip-Hop albums. It’s in my top 10.

TRHH: What’s your favorite Hip-Hop album of all-time?

Todd E. Jones: I would say Low End Theory by Tribe Called Quest. I go back to that all the time. I think it’s a perfect album. I actually got an A on a philosophy term paper by quoting “What?” by A Tribe Called Quest from Low End Theory. It’s just perfect. It’s so tight. The way it jumps from song to song, it’s great, it’s perfect. I like Midnight Marauders, I love it, and it’s a great album. But if you think about it the way it’s cut where it jumps from song to song it’s just the way Tribe Called Quest’s live songs are too. They’ll be in the middle of a track, finish a chorus, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad would hit the cross fader and go right to “Can I Kick It?” or some other song. That’s why I like Low End Theory. It’s very energetic and it sounds cool. Those basslines are amazing! You got Ron Carter live on that? That’s amazing. Listen to Excursions, as soon as it hits you feel it in your chest. I personally think it’s the best Hip-Hop album of all-time, but that’s just my taste. You like what you like. Everyone has their own taste. For me as an album I always have that in my car.

TRHH: What was the most memorable interview that you’ve done?

Todd E. Jones: I would say Common. You know why? Because this was when Electric Circus came out and Common was going out with Erykah Badu. You can’t tell it in the interview but Erykah Badu was in the background and she was finishing his sentences for him. It was great. Hip-Hop has a lot of masculine energy, but I don’t give a crap about that. I thought it was adorable. I thought it was really charming. Seriously she was in the background and he had me on speaker phone. I’m asking him a question and it turned into something where I’m not just interviewing Common, I’m interviewing Erykah Badu and Common. That was kind of cool.

TRHH: He’s my favorite emcee of all-time. He’s number one on my dream list of interviews. What’s funny about that is soon after that she left him for The D.O.C. That’s life.

Todd E. Jones: They were in love, man. She was in the video “The Light.” I kind of lost touch with Common after Finding Forever. It’s not because of interest, it’s just because they weren’t sending me free records anymore [laughs]. One thing I do love about the journalism aspect of Hip-Hop is finding these pockets of very different Hip-Hop. Have you heard of The Five Deez?

TRHH: No.

Todd E. Jones: Oh! Fat Jon! Fat Jon is a producer. He knew J Dilla, he’s friends with J. Rawls. Five Deez is some pretty interesting stuff, Pase Rock, J-Live! That introduced me to Def Jux, Mr. Lif, and Vast Aire. Vast Aire’s got some cool stuff going on. You know that Hot 97 wouldn’t play their records. There’s a great documentary on Netflix about Stretch & Bobbito, have you seen that?

TRHH: Yes!

Todd E. Jones: I remember listening to Stretch & Bobbito! That’s what’s awesome about Hip-Hop journalism you get that energy and find those people who will probably never find a voice anywhere else, who will not be popular, who will not go platinum, and who will not sell tons of records. They aren’t about selling tons of records, they’re about the art and the expression. That’s what I love about it. That’s what really gets me. It goes back to punk rock. I was a punk rock kid when I was a teenager, I got into Hip-Hop afterwards. It’s “do it yourself” because the record label is not going to sign me, so you know what, I’m going to create my own record label! I’m going to take two turntables and a microphone, I’m going to put on shows, I’m going to make music I want to make, and boom! That’s very inspiring to me.

TRHH: How’d you get into Hip-Hop initially?

Todd E. Jones: I grew up a middle class white boy who loved soul music. My father loved soul music. Originally it was a crazy white neighborhood. Whiter than white, golf courses, very boring shit. There was an influx of black, Indian, and Asian people coming into my town. I was a kid – like 8 years old. The more you’re around different cultures the more you’re exposed to their culture and their music. As a punk rock kid I would go to Dead Milkmen shows, Kennedys, see the Ramones at CBGB’S and shit like that. That attitude of not being the typical white suburban person and hating seeing that – I got into. I started to hang around a lot of different cultures and people. It was 3 Feet High and Rising, because originally as white people if you’re surrounded by a bunch of white people you’re scared of other cultures and races. I admit this – it’s horrible.

I was scared of rap music [laughs]. Just because it was a culture different from mine, not because of anything else. And then I heard 3 Feet High and Rising by De La Soul and there was something welcoming to that. I loved it! Three is the magic number was a kid’s song, and Buddy was sexy and funny at the same time. This is great! And I couldn’t get enough after that. After 3 Feet High and Rising I got turned on to A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. I saw “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” and I was like, “This is great!” Because of my interest in Hip-Hop and because I had black friends my interest in Hip-Hop deepened and I have more black friends [laughs]. And I got more Hispanic friends, Latino friends, Filipino friends, Indian friends, and Asian friends. As a white male Hip-Hop really opened me up to appreciate other cultures and to respect other cultures. I think that’s what’s most important. That’s the thing that Hip-Hop did for me. It helped me to be a better person because it helped me to understand and be opened-minded to any kind of culture.

TRHH: Now I have to pay homage and take a little bit from your recipe so, what was the last incident of racism that you experienced?

Todd E. Jones: [LAUGHS] Oh shit! Oh you’re good! You’re good! You’re really good. Holy shit! I forgot I used to ask that question all the time [laughs]. You’re good. You want the real deal?

TRHH: Keep it real.

Todd E. Jones: I have a big cock and I’m in the kink community. It’s not huge, but it’s not small. I was at a kink BDSM play party and I was kind of dismissed before my stuff was shown because I was white. There’s a whole thing about sex and kink with black men, white women, and the white cuckold. There’s a whole dynamic and I’m not even involved in that, at all. In the kink community a lot of people think that if there is a black dude that he’s got a huge cock. I’m six foot, I’m not built, but if I’m next to this big good looking black dude then automatically I have a little cock. That’s just not true. This white woman automatically thought because I was next to this really big black dude that I had a small cock and it was not true. Is that reverse racism? It all worked out fine, let’s put it that way [laughs].

TRHH: Ok. Let’s do some word association. You know how this goes.

Todd E. Jones: Yeah, let’s do it! I know.

TRHH: Chuck D.

Todd E. Jones: Political.

TRHH: Eminem.

Todd E. Jones: Inspirational. He shakes stuff up and shows that it’s not just black culture. The guy’s got talent. He can flow and he’s got rhymes. I don’t like all of his songs. After Marshall Mathers I kind of tuned out, but the dude is talented as fuck! He can rhyme.

TRHH: Kanye West.

Todd E. Jones: Beats. That’s what I like him for. For example, Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest I can listen to that over and over and over again. I must have listened to Graduation or College Dropout like once or twice and I thought, “This is great!” but I never wanted to listen to it again. I never had the urge, but I was willing for a Tribe Called Quest album, I was always willing for a Public Enemy album, or something like that. The thing that resonates with me is beats. He’s a great beat maker – he really is. For example, The Blueprint, that was all Kanye West and Just Blaze so that’s what I remember him for.

TRHH: J-Zone.

Todd E. Jones: J-Zone [laughs]! I love that dude! He is awesome! J-Zone, holy shit! The first thing that comes to my mind with J-Zone is his grandmother’s driveway [laughs]. I don’t know how deep you are into the J-Zone lifestyle but there’s whole songs about him parking a car in his grandmother’s driveway, so grandmother’s driveway [laughs]. Damn, you pulled out the deep cuts on this one! Shit!

TRHH: Redman.

Todd E. Jones: Redman! Jersey!

TRHH: Donald Trump.

Todd E. Jones: Asshole!

TRHH: Kendrick Lamar.

Todd E. Jones: Tribe Called Quest. He’s on the Tribe Called Quest album. From what I know of him, and honestly I don’t know much, but from what people tell me and what I hear of him he is the new generation of flow.

TRHH: Common.

Todd E. Jones: Chicago!

TRHH: Chris Christie.

Todd E. Jones: Chris Christine [laughs]. Traffic.

TRHH: Lauryn Hill.

Todd E. Jones: I miss her voice so much. Voice. I would say voice. Did you ever hear the collaboration she did with D’Angelo called ‘Nothing Even Matters’? It’s such a beautiful song.

TRHH: Phife Dawg.

Todd E. Jones: Flow. He had the sickest flow. I was listening to the new Tribe album and on ‘Dis Generation’ he steals that song! He pretty much steals the whole album and it’s not just because he’s dead, it’s because he’s talented. He beats Busta Rhymes! When Robin Williams died you started watching a lot more Robin Williams movies and stuff like that, it’s not the case with Phife Dawg. With Phife Dawg this guy had such a flow and rhythm that it could make the most awkward kid feel cool. That’s how awesome his flow was. He was so good.

TRHH: Todd E. Jones.

Todd E. Jones: Nicholas Tanek.

TRHH: Thank you so much for doing this. I never dreamed I’d be able to talk to you.

Todd E. Jones: Oh my god! Yeah dude, of course!

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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